Let me first clarify what I mean with "radical" here. While many modern authors, if not all, accept moral pluralism of sorts, all that I know of express either the hope, if not the conviction, that there is some sort of baseline agreement or common structure, or even argue for the possibility of them, despite the arguments given by themselves against such possibility earlier.

Thus, in general, there seems to be the overall picture that even though there are good arguments for a general moral pluralism (Nagel's View from Nowhere, other prominent ones see below), there seems to be no author that is fully committed to the idea that there can be humans (pathopsychology excluded) that do not share at least some moral sentiments/structures/principles/values/etc.


This section is mainly to show what kind of arguments and discourse I am fully aware of and where I am coming from, i.e. to give further context.

Simon Hope writes in his paper Hope, Simon (2011): 'Common humanity as a justification for human rights claims', in: G. Ernst and J.-C. Heilinger (eds.), The philosophy of human rights: Contemporary controversies. Berlin: De Gruyter, pp. 211-230. the following about Walzer, Nussbaum, and Davidson:

Nussbaum and Michael Walzer have offered arguments on this score: in order for us to recognize different ethical outlooks at all, there must be a common substantive set of “moral facts” that are “immediately available to our understanding”, against which moral disagreement is intelligible (Walzer 1987, 23 – 29; cf. Nussbaum 1993, 242 – 269). If this view is plausible, we cannot deny the existence of a common ‘framework’, as Walzer puts it, of moral intuitions that are only fully substantiated in historically contingent cultural ways of going on.

This line of argument appears to have good Davidsonian roots. Davidson’s basic point – that “the more basic a norm is to our making sense of an agent, the less content we can give to the idea that we disagree with respect to the norm” (Davidson 2004, 50) – is surely correct. One might then conclude that some values must be shared if we are to identify moral disagreements at all. (Hope: 217)

But he goes on to dispell the hopes for such a framework on the following pages, evenly with the tries of Griffin to argue for autonomy, liberty, and minimal provision as minimal shared values and more common sense arguments as put forward by e.g. Tasioulas.

But still, he offers an alternative to intuitionists and welfarist tries to justify shared values that should universally be protected by human rights in the form of "preserving effective action":

I take effective action to be determined by both a set of basic human needs, which we cannot help but have, and a degree of influence over the shape of the social institutions and conventions under which action to meet these needs must occur. (Hope: 224)

Similarly, Stephen Angle in his Angle, Stephen C. (2002): Human rights and Chinese thought: A cross-cultural inquiry. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 5-11 accepts arguments of MacIntyre and Rorty for moral pluralism, but points out (similar to Bell, D. A. (2000). East meets West: human rights and democracy in East Asia. Princeton University Press.) that no Eastern regime or individual leader has ever openly argued for torture, murder, or rape being right, just for some rights being temporarily disposable for the greater good (with ample historical sources) and thus assume an interculturally shared moral base, albeit acknowledging the lack of moral absolutism in "the East".

Furthermore, the rising star of Moral Foundations Theory gives a rising number of empirical data and helps establishing a common, empirically validated, structural network, see Graham, Jesse, et al. (2013): 'Moral Foundations Theory: The Pragmatic Validity of Moral Pluralism', in: P. Devine and A. Plant (eds.), Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, vol. 47. Burlington: Elsevier Science, pp. 55-130.

Thus, even if also the empirical evidence for moral pluralism is overwhelming, so is the empirical evidence for objectivism and meta-ethical structures allowing for that very pluralism, see Wright, Jennifer C., Grandjean, Piper T. & McWhite, Cullen B. (2013): 'The meta-ethical grounding of our moral beliefs: Evidence for meta-ethical pluralism', Philosophical Psychology 26:3, pp. 336-361.

Therefore, the question remains:

Are there any writers that argue for radical moral pluralism in the sense that not a single moral value or structure is shared, i.e. utter and complete incommensurability? And if not, which author may be or is considered as coming closest to that?


  1. Please try to give a sourced answer, ideally with quotes and a short explanation.
  2. Even more interesting would be if a text would argue along these lines by denying a common human nature as having any normative implications and not only the possibility but also the reality of radical moral pluralism, as this is where the research is aiming at.
  3. Authors including empirical studies are most welcome as well.
  • 3
    Have you looked at David Wong? (I'm sorry I won't have time to see if that's anywhere near an answer for the next couple months due to upcoming deadlines). – virmaior Jun 21 '18 at 13:33
  • Immediately: Nietzche, no? Perspectivism and the 'moral obligation' to move beyond morality requires no moral structure actually holds lasting force. There is only evolution of the moral position, no content that remains fixed. Earlier master philosophies spoke for genocide, and were not wrong on that count, just easier to overthrow, given common elements of psychology. – jobermark Jul 12 '18 at 20:49
  • Also, you can't do the 'psychopathology notwithstanding' dodge. This position itself is sociopathic. Anyone who holds it fits the psychological definition of exactly what you are trying to rule out -- they are not guilty under the same conditions we expect people to be guilty. – jobermark Jul 12 '18 at 20:51

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.